Council Historians Share Beloved Memories from Their Times at Girl Scout Camp

Over the years, forty historical councils have merged into what is now Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana.  In that time, Girl Scouts have owned or leased at least 91 camps, program centers and Little Houses. Below, historians share memories of some of their visits to a few of these camps and how much girls enjoyed being there. If you have stories or photos you would like to have preserved in the council’s archives please contact Rosemarie Courtney via email at info@girlscoutsgcnwi.org.

Camp Woody Acres; Owned by Chicago Girl Scout Council 1944-1981

Girl Scouts of Chicago purchased the property in 1944.  It had one lodge named Redwood.  The only other building was the caretaker’s small farm.  Except for latrines, it was a primitive camp.  The council sold the property in 1981.  Today it has luxurious homes on 1 acre lots.

Lifelong Girl Scout Rosemarie Courtney remembers: “When Troop #298 in Chicago was founded in 1950, it did not take long for the troop to find it a wonderful place to learn all the outdoor skills a Girl Scout should know and use every day of her life. By that time, there were 2 cabins, a screened in pavilion and pitch-your-own-tents camp areas. The big treat seemed to be Sunday breakfast using the caretaker’s eggs that were speckled; somehow, they tasted better. My troop camped there at least 3 times a year, from cabin camping to tent camping.  The most memorable experience was when some of us bridged to Senior Troop 1615 in 1954 and decided to bike to Woody Acres the first weekend of June each year, a 20-mile distance.  We did this for 3 years.  The straight route would be Harlem & the Kennedy Expressway to Irving Park Road.  But safety rules had us planning routes through neighborhoods, forest preserves and country roads.  All our gear and food for the weekend was in our backpacks.  We followed the rules in the Intermediate Handbook and made shelter, if need be, under our poncho over our bikes; otherwise, we slept under the stars.  Unfortunately, in 1956 the Bartlett Police found the 2 miles we had to travel on Irving Park Road to be unsafe for bicycling with gear on our backs, as the road was being widened to 4 lanes to reach a rural road.  So, a parent came and picked up our gear. The photo shows us waiting for the police to give us the OK to bike 2 miles to the rural road:

The widening of Irving Park Road ended this yearly event.  Also, note that we didn’t wear helmets when we biked back then, and all our bikes had one speed.”

Camp Hickory Hills; Owned by Northwest Cook Council sold in 1929-1964

 The land was purchased in 1929 by Mr. & Mrs. Charles F Loesch for the purpose of a Girl Scout camp. They immediately donated the land to the Des Plaines Girl Scout Council. The first building on the property was named Loesch Lodge which is pictured here. When Des Plaines Girl Scout Council merged to form Northwest Cook Council, the newly formed council took on ownership.  Today the property is Hickory Hills Campgrounds which has a display of what the place looked like when it was a Girl Scout Camp, and many former Girl Scouts stop by to reminisce about their days at the camp.

Elise Gould remembers attending the camp on weekend overnights:  “We slept in raised tents, 4 girls in a tent.  We cooked outside over an open fire.  The camp had 3 units: Merriwood, Sherwood Forest and Hilltop.”

Camp Pokanoka; Owned by Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana sold 2021

The camp was originally purchased in 1965 by Trailways Girl Scout Council.  When Trailways Girl Scout Council merged to form Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana the newly formed council took on ownership.  The camp was sold in 2021.

Kathy Webb wrote, “Being a Girl Scout for over 40 years and calling Camp Pokanoka my camp has always been the norm. My first visit to Camp Pokanoka was back in the late 60’s with my older sister and Girl Scout leader, mom.  From that first visit this young Girl Scout was hooked and couldn’t wait to be old enough to attend resident camp for 2 weeks.  One of my first years at camp I attended ‘Ride in the Wind’ with my no-speed bicycle and backpack.  I can remember our pool times and showers in the old, little shower house until the new one was built.  Hiking to the clay pits where we would wallow in the mud or sailing bars of soap boats down the Illinois River.  I even remember making torches from Kotex dipped in Kerosene to light up the road so we could see our way north to the river.  Cleaning the Latrines was my favorite or maybe cooking over the fire. Or was it songs we would sing everywhere we went?

The song Slap Bang after meals was always a highlight to watch all those dishes bounce up and down on those old round tables in the Oriole House.”

Not many changes were made at Camp Pokanoka.  Canvas tents in the Whippoorwill, Chickedee and Flicker which became “cabins” with more sleeping room and a roof, while Blue Jay remained the fun platform tent area.

As years past and I became a Girl Scout mom, Pokanoka was first on our troop’s agenda.  We made it out to camp three to four times a year and helped at council events.  Even though my troop has bridged to adults, I will always love Camp Pokanoka which has been and will always be a Girl Scout Friend to many from all over the world.

Camp Thorn Creek; Leased by Girl Scouts of South Cook Council 1951-1988

Camp Thorn Creek was leased from the Cook County Forest Preserve.  In the spring of 1934 the camp was opened in Sweet Woods Forest Preserve as a home for the young men of the Civilian Conservation Corps.  The men built military style barracks on the site to use as their lodging.   It was named Camp Thornton and later used during World War II to house German prisoners of war.  From 1946-1947 the Illiana Christian High School conducted classes in the buildings.  Then in 1951 the Girl Scouts of South Cook Council entered into a lease agreement for the sum of $1.00 per year to use the property as a camp and the barracks were converted to cabins.  The camp was honored by a visit from Olave Baden-Powell in 1953.  In 1988 when the Forest Preserve would not agree to any improvements on the cabins which were in disrepair, the council relinquished its lease on the property.  The barracks were demolished in 1989. Because of its historic importance, the Illinois Historical Society placed a marker at the site on June 26, 2010.

Karen Schillings had the good fortune to bring both of her daughters’ troops to Camp Thorn Creek.  As Brownies, the girls had the opportunity to stay in the barracks that were built during the Great Depression.  These barracks were very primitive and perhaps a little bit “scary” for 7 and 8-year-olds, since they were basic wooden plank floors and walls that the wind could whistle through.  I vividly remember one Sycamore Association (Homewood) spring encampment in the mid 1980s.  The Brownies were housed in the barracks and the Junior, Cadette and Senior Girl Scouts used the platform tents or pitched council tents that were stored at camp. 

Karen recalled, “my Junior troop pitched their tents Friday afternoon excited to be in tents for the first time.  Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate.  In fact, it seemed that a deluge had befallen us.  The rain started coming down during the night, and although I had warned the girls NOT to touch any part of the canvas on the tents, the warning was not heeded by everyone.  Some of the tents started to leak profusely.  When morning arrived, many of the girls and their gear were totally soaked.  As the rain kept coming down, we had to figure out a way to prepare breakfast without cooking, since there was no way, we could start a fire.  We basically ate bread with butter and jelly, along with some orange juice – not the scrambled eggs and toast we had planned.  By mid-morning, we could tell that the rain was not going to let up, so we decided to break camp and started calling parents to come and pick up their waterlogged daughters.  That was the most exhausting camp experience I’ve ever had in Girl Scouting, but it didn’t deter my desire to continue taking my troops to camp!”

Camp Chippewa Bay; Owned by Girl Scouts of DuPage Council 1955-2000

Since the formation of the DuPage Council one of the main objectives was to own a camp property with a waterfront.  A search committee was formed in 1953.  For the next five years, while the committee continued its search, the council rented facilities.  At first, the committee was told to limit their search to within a 150-mile radius which proved to be fruitless.  With the help of an estate agent two sites were found in Wisconsin.  The Girl Scout Region VII Camping Adviser visited the sites and made a recommendation to the committee.  The findings were presented to the DuPage County Council board in 1955 and the property which became Camp Chippewa Bay was purchased.  The first Girls camped there in 1958.

When asked to write about why Camp Chippewa Bay (CCB) was so special, Anne Brennan posed the question to the CCB Facebook page (currently 504 followers strong) and received 40 responses and 27 hearts.  Most of the responses expressed similar sentiments: “Camp Chippewa Bay was magic and still holds a special place in our hearts.  It helped women young and not so young find who they were and then allowed them to be that with support and without judgment.  To try new things and challenges and escape from the “real world.” We learned skills in leadership, teaching, empathy, outdoor life and more that has lasted in us all to this day.  Music and singing were also a major theme so I will leave you with a condensed version of our dedication song: ‘We came here as strangers, learned the way of the wind and of the wood and the waves, and left as lifelong friends.  We still gather as much as we can and thank the Girl Scouts for creating this wonderful place.’”

Camp Tocanja; Owned by Girl Scouts of Calumet Council 1956-1988

In 1956 Calumet Council purchased 315 acres on Clear Lake in Twin Lakes, Michigan for a summer camp.  The first girls to camp there were in 1957.  The Scouts did two weeks of primitive camping.  Over the next three years the camp was developed, and Calumet Council declared 1960 to be “Camp Tocanja Year.”  The last summer camp sessions were held in 1985 and the camp was sold in 1987.  The property remains undeveloped and forested. 

Beginning in 1961, the second year the camp was open, Peggy Tuck-Sinko spent many happy summers at Camp Tocanja.  She recalls, “while I enjoyed almost everything (with the possible exception of some of the government surplus food that was served in the dining hall), my favorite memories are of the canoe trips.  Camp was where I learned to canoe, but we all got very tired of practicing strokes, and tip-tests, and maneuvering on Clear Lake.  Why couldn’t we just go out and paddle on the river?  Two different trips around 1963 and 1964 on the White and Pere Marquette Rivers really stand out.  On the White River we slept under overturned canoes at Happy Mohawk Canoe Livery – which still operates today, burned leeches off each other, and tried somewhat successfully to keep the food supplies dry.  I think Happy Mohawk is where I lost my Girl Scout knife.

We also encountered a group of boys who, in one tricky part of the river crashed into rocks and trees, and even overturned some canoes.  They pulled over beyond the “white water” (not raging, but scary enough to us), ready to laugh and catcall at our mistakes.  Now we knew why we had practiced!  One by one, our canoes threaded their way through the snags and churning water.  I’m sure it wasn’t flawless, but there was no crashing of aluminum on rocks or tipped-over canoes.  We waved at the dripping and silent boys as we paddled by, barely containing our glee.  An active Camp Tocanja Facebook group keeps these and other memories of this special place alive.”